I would not say to never take the elevator. However I do believe that you should get yourself into a position that can be compromised. Taking the stairs can help you familiarize yourself with exits and work on your escape plan.
Let’s first talk about your options inside the cab of an elevator. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) requires that all elevators are thoroughly inspected every year and that additional monthly inspections for satisfactory operation are also conducted. Records of the annual inspections are also to be posted within the vicinity of the elevator, along with the elevator’s maximum load limits. Load limits are to be posted in a conspicuous location both inside and outside of the elevator.
I mention these details so that you’ll know what kind of regulations cover elevators on a federal level and know what to look for when it comes to load limits, etc. Depending on the building you find yourself inside of and the type of elevator you are in, most have a common car operating panel in which to make your desired floor stop selection from. In addition to the array of floor buttons, you’ll also find an alarm bell button and either a dedicated phone to call for help, or a help button.
The alarm bell is there to sound an audible alarm in case of an emergency to summon help. This beats tapping out morse code on the elevator door, but the alarm might not be heard if you’re away from a floor where someone can hear it. The help button should establish a two-way communication with someone that can also dispatch assistance for you if you’re trapped with no way out.
Most elevators also have a top-opening emergency exit, but from what I’ve been able to find out in talking with elevator repair companies and a friend that’s a local downtown firefighter, they’re locked from the outside by law. It’s not necessarily for you to access during a self-rescue attempt, but more for emergency responders to use to rescue you.
There’s a few things to mention before you might even get on an elevator, that can help prevent you from finding yourself in a scenario that requires rescuing.
- What’s the condition of the elevator? Does it look dilapidated or like it’s having issues? Maybe you’d be best taking the stairs to begin with.
- Observe the load limits of the elevator and judge whether you stepping onto the elevator is the best decision, based on the number of people already on it.
- Keep your cell phone charged in case it’s needed for emergency communication.
Consider carrying a flashlight if it’s not already part of your EDC (every day carry.)
- This may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ll say it anyway. If there’s a fire, take the stairs, don’t even think about evacuating a burning building in an elevator.
So what should you do if your elevator gets stuck and you feel you need to utilize the emergency options, like the help button and alarm bell?
- Remain Calm, it can have a positive effect on those around you who may not be.
If the power is out, use a flashlight or the light from your cell phone to find and press the door open button or another floor selection.
- If the door open button doesn’t help, activate the help button on the elevator control panel.
- Make note of the time that the elevator stopped working and how many people are inside with you. Report this information during your call.
- If the help button isn’t functioning, try using your cell phone to call 911. Most elevators are faraday cages and reception might not be possible.
- If you still can’t get through to anyone, use the alarm bell to try and summon assistance.
- Banging on the door or yelling could work as well, but don’t over exert yourself if there’s no response after awhile.
- Patience and time might be your only recourse while waiting for emergency responders. Did you bring snacks?
- If all else fails and it’s a life or death emergency, you can make the decision on whether it’s worth trying to pry the door open to see if you can climb out through the door on the floor above or below you. I’d highly advise against this option, as the elevator could spring to life and you could potentially be crushed. Your situation will of course dictate your risk level, but there’s no need to jump to this option too soon, or to even hastily set up a pee corner (see below.)